Q: This person shares about suffering from social phobia since adolescence, particularly meeting members of the opposite sex. While getting more benefit from “shame attacking exercises” than written cognitive exercises, does not have the courage to continue doing them.
A: May I just add–at the risk of sound as though I am picking nits–that the fear is not really the fear of people or of how other people behave toward you. It is the fear of what happened to you inside when a desired person does not accept you. It is the fear of experiencing the anxiety, disappointment, shame, resentment, self-loathing that activates when someone behaves in rejecting way toward you, or seems to behave in a rejecting way toward you. Sometimes the meaning and intent of someone’s behavior is entirely in your imagination . . . but that is neither here nor there. Of course, your smorgasbord of emotions will be entirely unique to you. It might be the stinging sensation of loss and being humiliated that is prominent. Or it might be the anxiety itself that resonates and resonates and resonates. Or the shame and self loathing. Or the anger and desi re to hurt the person who has rejected you. Or the lingering bitterness and resentment. Or the hopeless feeling that suddenly rushes forward with the thought “Now, I’ll never get laid!” (or never make friends, or never be close to anyone, or never find an intimate connection with someone special). It could be any cluster or combination of these.
It is not the fear of rejection but the fear of feeling rejected that we protect ourselves from by avoiding social contact. The point of the behavior exercises is not to prove that we can BE rejected and not be devastated, but that we can EXPERIENCE all the emotions associated with it, as I described earlier, and not be devastated. By allowing ourselves to experience these emotions (rather than to avoid, repress, suppress them), we (may) learn several important things:
1. These emotions are a bummer, but not the end of the world.
2. These emotions are natural and normal, entirely human, but by our distorted thinking and improper dealing with them, they become magnified, ugly and scary.
3. These emotions will pass; and to the extend that we are open and allow ourselves to experience them, the pass more quickly and less painfully. With practice, the stop being so problematic, or may stop being problems entirely.
4. While avoidance offers some temporary, partial relief from this pain, it is a costly and incomplete coping mechanism
I hope my picking nits can nudge this over into the understanding that this is an “emotional problem,” not a “social problem,” and even while we use cognitive and behavioral means to deal with it, what we are going for is a more acceptable emotional relationship with ourself, with a more comfortable co-habitation, as it were, with ourselves inside of our own skins.
With life-long, so called, “social phobia,” picking yourself up by your own bootstraps may not be enough. Some chemical assist (in partnership with you and your pshrink) may provide a temporary comfort zone allowing you to get the most form talk-therapy, and cognitive and behavior exercises. Unfortunately, neurofeedback is quite costly, but for those who can afford it, from what I am learning, may offer the most powerful assist of all to these other processes. In any event, repetition is the keyword here, to rebuild anxiety neural pathways etched deeply into the old gray matter by years and years of failure and avoidance. End the phony argument about cognitive vs. behavioral approaches. They are both important! That’s why they decided to cal lit Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. And Dr. Ellis included “emotive” to address exactly what I have been describing in this entry.
And somewhere in this journey you will have to discover or decide if “social phobia” is the problem or if social phobia is just your excuse for being introverted, and preferring not to be as social as all the other assholes escaped from the asylum and running around loose!
Khon Kaen, Thailand
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Originally posted 2012-07-20 04:06:07.
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